By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 15, 2001
WHAT THEY DO WELL: The Giants play exceptional defense, as evidenced by their dismantling of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in the divisional playoff and their resolve to come up with key stops against Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game. Defensive coordinator John Fox is a master of blitz packages. Offensively, New York is more efficient than explosive. The unit features one of the most balanced attacks in the league but proved against the Vikings on Sunday it can win through the air.
WHAT THEY DON'T DO WELL: The strength of the defense is the front seven, not the secondary, which has been vulnerable when the Giants have failed to get pressure. The team allowed an average of 269.8 yards passing in its four losses. The offense has been prone to streaks of sloppy play and inefficiency.
BEST PLAYERS: The defense features three linchpins: end Michael Strahan, linebacker Jessie Armstead and cornerback Jason Sehorn. Coach Jim Fassel said this has been Strahan's best season even though he didn't make the Pro Bowl. Armstead did get his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl invite, and Sehorn's penchant for big plays has returned after a series of injuries in 1998 and 1999. Running back Tiki Barber has had a breakout season with more than 1,800 yards from scrimmage. Quarterback Kerry Collins has been proficient, and receiver Amani Toomer had another 1,000-yard season.
FUNNIEST PLAYER: Center Dusty Ziegler is a joker. Asked by Fassel to speak after a practice during preparation for the divisional playoff, Zeigler proceeded to imitate several teammates and coaches, as well as South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, to the delight of the team. "After that, I said to (Zeigler), 'When did Jackie Gleason come out of the closet?' " general manager Ernie Accorsi said.
UNSUNG HERO: Guard Glenn Parker helped bring toughness to the offense, and his presence, with the additions of Ziegler and tackle Lomas Brown, is a primary reason the once-moribund rushing attack came alive.
MOST QUOTABLE: Strahan and Armstead are the team leaders and great talkers, but in the days leading to the NFC Championship Game, linebacker Micheal Barrow was on a roll. He said Sehorn's acrobatic interception was like something from The Matrix, reasoned the Giants were like a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and had to use their fan lifeline to beat the Eagles and said the crowd made him feel like the guy in Gladiator. On the Giants tradition, Barrow said: "I go around and people tell me you're going to do it, you're going to do it. I can't say it the way they say it, because I don't curse, but it's just that attitude. There's tradition here, there's expectation here. To not expect to win it all is unheard of here. That's the attitude I like and I thank God we're right back on track with that same attitude."
MOST LIKELY TO CREATE A SCENE: Sehorn's celebrity looks and television star fiancee (he made a marriage proposal to Law and Order star Angie Harmon on the Tonight Show) is sure to draw a crowd wherever he goes in Tampa.
LUCKIEST TO BE GOING: Brown has spent 17 seasons in the league and never reached a Super Bowl. The former University of Florida standout reached the post-season with Detroit and Arizona, but last year he was wallowing through a two-win season with the Cleveland Browns. Lucky for him, the Browns dubbed him a malcontent and granted his release so he could land with the Giants.
POSITION TEAM IS KNOWN FOR: You would have to say linebacker, given that Lawrence Taylor spent his entire career with the Giants. Not only is Taylor, a Hall of Famer, considered the greatest linebacker of all time, he arguably is the greatest defensive player to put on a uniform. He followed in the tradition of Giants linebackers such as Sam Huff and Brad Van Pelt, and Armstead carries.
BEST GAME IN HISTORY: It's hard to pick between the two Super Bowl victories, so let's eschew both and go with the game co-owner Wellington Mara says is his most memorable. In 1934, the Giants took on Bronko Nagurski and the Chicago Bears on a frozen field at the Polo Grounds in the NFL Championship Game. The Giants fell behind but rallied after halftime thanks to a shoe change. New York opted for tennis shoes, borrowed from a local college basketball team, and the footing advantage proved pivotal.
WORST GAME IN HISTORY: Give Bucs assistant head coach Herm Edwards the nod on this one. All the Giants had to do was kneel to seal a victory over the Eagles in 1978, but instead they tried to hand off. Quarterback Joe Pisarcik and running back Larry Csonka had a bad exchange, and the ball hit the turf. Edwards, playing cornerback for Philadelphia, broke through the line, scooped the ball and ran into the end zone to give the Eagles an improbable victory and create what is known as the "Miracle in the Meadowlands."
BEST DRAFT PICK: It's difficult not to tab Taylor, especially when you consider South Carolina running back George Rogers was considered the top talent coming out of college in 1981.
WORST DRAFT PICK: The Giants have had problems drafting running backs, with first-rounders George Adams (1985) and Jarrod Bunch ('91) failing to come close to expectations.
BEST AND WORST COACH: Bill Parcells guided New York to unprecedented success during his reign, including two Super Bowl wins. Ray Handley, who followed Parcells, seemingly was overwhelmed with the task of replacing the legend, and the Giants spiraled into an abyss they didn't get out of until this season.
REASONS TO ROOT FOR THE GIANTS: You have to like the Giants' old-school ways and the fact they don't seem to be as mouthy or flashy as their opponent. Spurred by Fassel's midseason guarantee, New York has combined an underdog mentality with a blue-collar ethic to reach the Super Bowl without superstars.
REASONS TO ROOT AGAINST THE GIANTS: Though the players may be embraceable, until Sunday the Giants' style has not been appealing to anyone who likes wide-open offense and lots of passing. Even more troubling is the prospect of dealing with the overzealous New York/New Jersey fans, who already are crowing about the Devils' 2000 Stanley Cup title, the Subway Series and another Yankees title. Big Apple snowbirds and transplants might become unbearable if the Giants take it all.